Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: chicago

Introducing Block 37

With one gig and dozens of rehearsals under our belts (and five - count 'em - FIVE upcoming gigs scheduled) I figure it's high time to promote my latest band, Block 37, a five-piece act hell-bent on not boring you to death the way so many other bands do.  Seriously, I'm really excited about this venture for several reasons, three of which I'll highlight today.

1)  The band's mission to stay clear of classic rock and over-played hits and instead focus on fun, upbeat power pop gems, many of which you might have forgotten all about.  So yeah, we'll play some great tunes by bands you know like The Clash, The Cars, The Black Keys, White Stripes and the like, but then we'll perform that one tune that needs to be exercised from the recesses of your mind.  Songs like "Save it for Later" by The English Beat, "Here It Goes Again" from OK Go (which I just heard on an episode of Scrubs!), "Ah, Leah" by Donnie Iris, "A Million Miles Away" from the Plimsouls.  And Wilco.  And Elvis Costello.  Any Joe Jackson.  Vampire Weekend.  The Kings.  Fountains of Wayne.  The Knack. And, and, and...can you tell I'm really excited about our set list?

2)  So our current selection of songs is excellent, but what's really cool is we're learning new material all the time, which not only keeps us excited, it also means that our shows will constantly evolve so that you'll never get the same set list twice.  I've been in bands that are very reluctant to learn new material.  Not Block 37.  We are here to explore the vast soundscape of power pop gems from the last four decades.

3)  The musicianship of this band is ridiculous.  How Phil can remember all the lyrics to these tunes is beyond me, and Matt's spot-on guitar solos kills me.  Add to that a thumpin rock-solid rhythm section by Johnny and Doug, and it's a pleasure for me to add some keys to what's already a great sounding arrangement.

WHAT DO WE NEED FROM YOU?  First please go to our Facebook page and like us.  We're at 163 likes but we need more.  You can also check out our ever-changing website for news, videos and photos.

Second, come out to one of our shows!  As of this writing, you have five opportunities to hear Block 37 play:

Fri, July 31: Block 37 will be performing power pop gems for an evening gig at Phyllis's Musical Inn in Chicago, 10 to 1.

Sat, Aug 1: I'm back with Block 37 at Bono's in Lisle from 9:15 to 12:45 or thereabouts.

Sat, August 22: Block 37 is heading to Palos for a rip-roaring night of power pop favorites.  At Trio in Palos, 9 to really, really late.

Sat, August 29: My newest band, Block 37, will be performing at the Highland Avenue Block Party in Elmhurst Illinois.  Details to follow.

Fri, Septmber 18:Block 37 is back at our regular gig at Bono's in Lisle.  9:15 or so to the wee hours.

So come on out and see what all the hub-bub is about, help us grow, and with any luck, one day we'll play during daylight hours! 

Rush's Last Stand

Watching Rush last Friday at the United Center in Chicago for what will likely be the last time, I was torn between the tale of two sets: one predictable and lackluster, and one that left me wishing the band would stick around for another tour or two.  The trio performed a reverse chronological set, but rather than mining deep into their catalog during the first half, they relied heavily on songs that were mainstays of their concerts for years (and they also skipped too many stops along the way).  The second set helped redeem the evening, and if this is truly the band’s last stand, it was an impressive way to end a forty plus year run.

One can forgive Rush for wanting to play three songs from their highly regarded last studio effort, Clockwork Angels, and though “Far Cry,” off of Snakes and Arrows was an uninspired choice since they just performed it two years ago, it’s still a great track.  So far so good.  However, the inclusion of “The Main Monkey Business” off the same album was a complete waste of time – an uninspiring instrumental that pales in comparison to some of the band’s other work.

Then Rush did what they often do, relying on what I refer to as the “first-track syndrome.”  Literally every other track of the first set (and the first of the second set) was taken from the first track of one of their albums, so instead of getting a surprise or two, we instead heard songs that have been performed numerous times in the past:  “One Little Victory,” “Animate,” “Roll the Bones,” “Distant Early Warning” and “Subdivisions.”  How much better would the concert have been if Rush had instead performed “Ceiling Unlimited,” “Between Sun and Moon,” “The Big Wheel,” “Kid Gloves” and “Digital Man”?  On alternating concerts, Rush has been performing “How it Is” from Vapor Trails and “Between the Wheels” from Grace Under Pressure, and both would have been better choices the night I saw them.

On a night that could have showcased each album of the band’s career, the most glaring error of the evening was skipping entirely the albums Test for Echo, Presto and Hold Your Fire.  Ignoring Power Windows made sense since the last tour highlighted five songs from that effort, but leapfrogging over the other three was unfortunate, especially since these are all strong albums that could have offered some interesting selections.

Then the band came out for the second set, and though I would have preferred a few additional surprises, the truth is that it was incredible from start to finish.  I also got lucky and got to see them perform both “Natural Science” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” whereas on other nights they’ve substituted the former for “The Camera Eye” or for nothing at all.  My second set went as follows:

Tom Sawyer

YYZ

The Spirit of Radio

Natural Science

Jacob’s Ladder

Hemispheres, Part 1: Prelude

Cygnus X-1, Part 1 and 3

Closer to the Heart

Xanadu

2112: Overture, The Temples of Syrinx, Presentation, Grand Finale

Lakeside Park

Anthem

What You’re Doing

Working Man

Geddy Lee had to screech his way through much of the latter part of the set, and I would have been just as happy hearing an instrumental medley, but overall he did a pretty solid job with the tunes.  The big surprises were “Jacob’s Ladder,” which hadn’t been performed live since 1980, and “Lakeside Park” and “What You’re Doing,” which hadn’t been played since 1978 and 1977, respectively.  It was also very cool hearing the first part of “Hemispheres” for the first time since the Counterparts tour.

Visually, the concert was appealing in that the band’s crew gradually simplified the stage, so that what started as an intricate steam punk theme slowly evolved into a simple stage with a few amps on chairs and a screen backdrop make to look like a gymnasium, a sort of Benjamin Button for the stage, if not for the performers themselves. 

As always, the band employed a great number of prerecorded tracks triggered via foot pedals, from backing vocals to keyboards and sound effects.  I’ve learned to accept this over the years, though it detracts from the musicianship of the band.  I would have much prefer to see three guys on stage playing everything live.  Nonetheless, the band will largely be known for its solid live performing, and last Friday’s show was no exception.  I bid Rush a fond farewell.

You think this is cold? Remember the winter of 1994?

By any measure, it’s been a cold and snowy winter for the upper Midwest.  As of the end of January, Chicago was hovering around the thirteenth coldest winter on record, and this week continues the trend of below average temperatures.  We’ve had four school days cancelled already, and our kids will be paying dearly for it come June, exhibit A of how delayed gratification is often the better bet.

The cold has naturally brought about bragging rights of those old enough to recall, say, the blizzard of ’79 or the cold streak of ‘85.  I’m no exception.  For me, this winter brings to mind January of 1994, when I resided in St. Paul, parked my ’85 Tercel outdoors and wondered why I hadn’t gone to grad school in Arizona.  I was working at Federal Cartridge Company in Anoka about forty minutes away, and my poor car had to be jumped multiple times at the end of the work day.  This was standard procedure for the folks in Anoka, as they had a truck available specifically for this purpose. 

January 2nd began a 22 day cold spell of temperatures remaining below freezing.  In the midst of this streak, my friends followed what is normally sound advice in such circumstances: get the hell out of Dodge and head for warmer pastures.  We decided to take a road trip to Kentucky, my roommate’s home state, and take advantage of an opportunity to watch the Kentucky-Tennessee basketball game, ogle at young coeds and enjoy some warmer weather.

We succeeded in the first two goals.  Warmer weather was not to be. 

On the drive down, the moisture from our wretched breathes condensed on the windows, forming a thick sheet of ice that provided an outlet for the artistic endeavors of the passengers.  Arriving in Lexington on January 15th, we were greeted to a high of 9 degrees and a low of 2 below zero.  Returning home two days later only made matters worse.  Here are the temperature highs and lows for Minneapolis during the cold streak of 1994.

Jan 14 -18, 6

Jan 15 -25, -9

Jan 16, -25, 0

Jan 17, -17, 0

Jan 18, -27, -7

Even the University of Minnesota cried “Uncle” that day and cancelled classes.  My Tercel also acquiesced to Mother Nature.  It wouldn’t start without a jump from my buddy’s El Camino.  Still the streak continued…

Jan 19 -27, 1

Jan 20 -27, 2

Finally, on January 21, we made it to a high of 28 (but still a low of 3 below zero).  Temperatures didn’t make it past 32 degrees until two days later, and even this respite was short-lived.  Beginning on January 29th, we endured 18 consecutive days of below normal temperatures.

So yeah, it’s been a cold winter.  Our heating bills are going to be high.  And my back – twenty years older than it was in 1994 – it about ready to call it a winter.  But at least I have a garage this time around and a car that’s less than ten years old (and money to purchase a new battery if it comes to that). 

Perhaps in twenty years time, the young whippersnappers of today will blog about the Winter of 2014 with fond recollections.

The Sorry State of Broadway

Waiting among thousands for the Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert at Millennium Park last week, I scanned the ten shows that were to be reviewed that evening and couldn’t believe how utterly lame Broadway has become.  Of the ten shows, there wasn’t one fully original production.  Not one.  Instead, we were treated to the equivalent of a classic rock band, feeding on the familiar, with not one surprise in the lot.

Here’s the breakdown:

Continuing the trend that was perfected in the 90s, five of the musicals are based on movies: Once, Ghost, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elf and Flashdance.

Three shows are showcases of already-familiar music: We Will Rock You, Motown and Million Dollar Quartet.

Two of the shows are productions of shows that are at least ten years old: Wicked and Evita.

There you have it. 

This is hardly a new phenomenon on Broadway.  For over twenty years now, the high cost of musical flops have spurred producers to rely on a built-in audience, spawning shows such as the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Big, The Producers, Spamalot, Billy Elliot, The Adam’s Family, etc.  This year, all four nominees for best musical were based on movies: winner Kinky Boots, Matilda, A Christmas Story and Bring it On.  But hey, at least these musicals had some original music.  More and more, there are the jukebox musicals, showcasing music the audience is already familiar with.  Building off the success of Mama Mia and Jersey Boys, musical lovers have been bombarded with these types of productions in recent years: Movin’ Out, All Shook Up, Ring of Fire, Rock of Ages, etc.

As for Evita and Wicked, both are both original shows that were phenomenally successful.  Kudos to Stephen Schwartz and the writing due of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  Can you write something new now?

I wondered if perhaps the city of Chicago didn’t compare to the originality showcased in New York, but shows currently running (or soon to be running) in the Big Apple are the following:

Annie, Big Fish, The Bridges of Madison County, Bullets over Broadway, Cinderella, Chicago, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots, Les Miserables, The Lion King, Mama Mia, Matilda, Motown, Newsies, Once, The Phantom of the Opera, Rock of Ages, Rocky (seriously) and Wicked.

Shows like this year’s best musical winner, Kinky Boots, and Big Fish, should perhaps get a free pass, because they’re not based on a blockbuster movie, and therefore are produced not with a built-in audience in mind, but with the thought that the musical will be more successful than the film.  In a sense, this is no different than if the musical had been based on a book.  I saw Big Fish last spring in Chicago, and am hopeful that it generates an interest in Manhattan (see my review).   But the likes of 2011 winner The Book of Mormon and 2008 winner In the Heights are all too rare.  

When will Broadway begin to wag the dog of Hollywood instead of dutifully following its master?

Rush Mixes it Up (to a point)

I imagine that being in a band with twenty albums of material is burdensome at times.  With that much history behind you, pleasing all of your fans while attempting to please yourself has got to be a daunting task.  For years, Rush has fallen into the routine of playing whatever album they’re promoting, along with what I like to call “the first song on the album syndrome.”  If they played an album from Signals, it was “Subdivisions.”  If they played a song from Power Windows, it was “The Big Money.”  Hold Your Fire?  “Force Ten.”  Roll the Bones?  "Dreamline."  It became very predictable, and I often wondered why they didn’t allow themselves to dig a little deeper into their extensive repertoire.

On Saturday at the United Center in Chicago, Rush mixed things up to a degree that undoubtedly left some people beside themselves with joy and others scratching their heads at yet another missed opportunity.  I was somewhere in the middle, but ultimately I have to applaud Rush for finally shaking the dust off of some tunes that hadn’t seen a live performance in over a decade.  Rush has always thrown a surprise or two in their setlist – “Presto” on the Time Machine tour, “Between the Wheels” on the R30 tour, “Circumstances” on the Snakes and Arrows tour – but this time around they performed at least six unexpected tracks.

If you liked 80s Rush – not their crowning back-to-back albums Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures – but from the subsequent synth-heavy releases, you were a happy camper.

Kicking off the 2 ½ hour show with “Subdivisions,” Rush didn’t leave the 80s until the 8th track, and not before surprising the audience with two songs I’d been hoping to hear for the past twenty years: “The Body Electric” from Grace Under Pressure, and “Territories” from Power Windows.  In fact, PW won the contest for most songs (aside from Rush’s new release, Clockwork Angels).  Who would have figured that one?  “Analog Kid” from Signals was another great addition and a crowd favorite.  Less effective was “Grand Designs” from PW, and why the rock trio can’t perform something other than “Force Ten” from Hold Your Fire is a mystery.  It’s never been a showstopper, so why continue to grind through yet another performance of a tired song?

Geddy Lee was in fine form on Saturday, his voice as strong as it’s been in years, hitting the higher register on most songs – especially those from Clockwork Angels – consistently.  Sure, he can’t sing “Temples of Syrinx,” but who can?  Geddy couldn’t even hit those notes twenty years ago.  Neil Peart made the wise choice of performing three mini drum solos this time out rather than one extensive solo.  The result was an effective interlude between songs, rather than an extended piece that – to my ears at least – had sometimes grown tiresome.  Especially effective was Neil’s electronic solo prior to “Red Sector A” (yet another surpriing choice).

Still early on their US tour, Alex occasional forgot to lip-synch the prerecorded vocal tracks he’s supposed to pretend he’s actually singing, but the result was the same.  He also forgot to press his acoustic simulator at the beginning of “The Garden,” so the first two or three chords came blazing out of his guitar before he recognized his mistake.  Still, he and his bandmates were – as always – masterful at their instruments and a pleasure to watch.

Equally masterful was the addition of a seven-piece string section that accompanied the band throughout the Clockwork Angels selections as well as three other songs.  The highlight for me, aside from a beautifully pulsating introduction of the “The Garden,” was the addition of strings on “YYZ,” in which they doubled the guitar parts at key moments, lifting an already unbelievable song to new heights.

Some of the new material went over very well.  “Caravan” has already become a fan favorite after its introduction during the Time Machine tour, and the driving “Headlong Flight” electrified the audience.  Other songs went over less enthusiastically, and it wasn’t hard to conclude that Rush probably played two new songs too many.  Nine was a lot to digest.

Ending the set with the typical trio of “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer” and a medley of selections from “2112,” Rush left the audience on a high note.  But it’s easy to understand some of the disappointing posts I’ve read on-line.  Of Rush’s twenty albums, ten had no representation whatsoever.  Furthermore, they performed only one song from the 70s, (2112), one song from Permanent Waves (The Spirit of Radio) and two songs from Moving Pictures (Tom Sawyer and YYZ).  It would have been nice to have heard “Free Will,” “Limelight,” “La Villa Strangiato” or a track off of Presto (“Superconductor,” anyone?).

Nonetheless, my son, my brother and I left the show happy to have heard a great band playing at a high level after all these years.  In fact, I attended my first legitimate concert with my brother back on October 9, 1982, when we saw Rush perform at MECCA in Milwaukee.  The Brewers were in the World Series, and Geddy and Neil both came out sporting Brewer garb during the opening number of “The Spirit of Radio.”  When Geddy was supposed to sing, “one likes to believe in the spirit of music,” he substituted “music” with “baseball.”  A more auspicious introduction to concert viewing in the eyes of a fourteen year-old boy there has never been. 

Now, almost exactly thirty years later, and I saw Rush with my ten year-old son.  How cool is that?  And who the heck would have thought back in 1982 that the Canadian trio would still be pumping out solid material to well-attended concerts?

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved